Right now it must be great to be a baseball fan in northern California. Well, at least for fans that pay attention to minor league players. The Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants both have a nice group of young pitchers in the majors and the minors, with at least 5 years before each pitcher hits their prime years. There must be something in the water, because both teams know very well how to draft young pitching talent.
And that leads us to Madison Bumgarner. Before we get into statistical comparisons and analysis, let's cover some basics first.
Madison Bumgarner throws a fastball in the low to mid 90's, with reports of hitting 96 mph. During his years in high school, Bumgarner's dad limited the development of any breaking pitches to maintain low stress levels on his arm, so his curve ball and slider are still very much under development. He has a solid change up, but mostly relies on his fastball to get batters out. His progression through the minors will probably depend on how quickly his curve and/or slider catches up with his fastball.
Bumgarner shows a sincere intent to work hard and improve. Mike Fox, head coach of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had this to say about Bumgarner after learning of his original commitment to play at UNC: "Madison is a great kid with a great future. He is blessed with a great left arm, but I am more impressed with the type of young man he is. He is very humble and grounded. He obviously gets a great deal of attention but he handles himself with a great deal of maturity." Praise like that means quite a bit when it's coming from a man who has spent the majority of his life working with highly regarded prospects.
Now that we've gotten past the formalities, let's get down to business. Here are Bumgarner's 2008 stats, along with a few comparable pitchers that displayed similar performances at A ball.
In one word, Bumgarner has been superb. He's among some very good company, and there's no doubt about his talent. However, I've read a lot of talk on the web from fans that are concerned that Bumgarner doesn't have a good secondary pitch yet. To that I say don't worry about it. While Rick Ankiel was able to dominate early because he had an incredible curve ball, and Francisco Liriano had his slider to help him through the minors, Bumgarner has relied solely on his fastball and has been able to match up well against both of those pitchers. It's an amazing feat that points to the sheer level of talent Bumgarner posesses. If Bumgarner can post a K/9 near 10 with excellent control using just his fastball, imagine what he'll be able to do when he has a decent curve, or slider, and a change up. Also keep in mind that of all pitches, the fast ball is easier to control and applies the least amount of stress to the arm, consequently reducing the overall risk of injury. Which would you rather have, a pitcher with a nasty curve, or a pitcher with an equally nasty fast ball?
So if Bumgarner compares well to guys like Ankiel and Liriano, what can we expect from him in the future? Each of the 3 pitchers in the comparison chart went on to maintain their A ball stats through AAA, and made their first MLB appearance by the age of 21. Ankiel posted an ERA of 3.50 at the age of 20, Liriano had an ERA of 2.16 at 22, and Sabathia had an ERA of 3.60 at 22. If we apply the same trends to Bumgarner, we can expect him to debut with the Giants by 2011, and post an ERA in the 3.00-3.50 range by 2012.
Obviously, Bumgarner has a ton of potential and his left arm should carry him a long way. If he develops a good secondary pitch soon, his stats should quickly reflect it and we could see him cement his place among some great pitchers. I'm a little concerned that his July K% has seen a slight drop, but I think it's most likely due to late season fatigue since this is Bumgarner's first full year of professional ball. I expect the Giants -- who have demonstrated an above average to develop young pitchers -- to shut him down pretty soon, and let him rest through the end of the winter before putting him back to work.